Anti-Sefardi Discrimination – a Time Honored Tradition

It may have a longer history than many of us realize. Thumbing through a Seder HaDoros in the Philadelphia Kollel, my son chanced upon the following passage:

From the Portuguese Expulsion they spread out to the four corners of the earth. Some of them came to Italy. The Roman community pledged a thousand ducats to the Pope, so that he should not allow the Jewish Sefardim to enter his territory. The Pope was angered by this, saying, “How can you be so cruel to your brothers?” He decreed that they should leave his territory, and the Sefardim should enter instead of them. They were compelled to expend much money to annul this edict.

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14 Responses

  1. LazerA says:

    Seder Olam? Is this the name of a newer sefer?Neither of the seforim I know by that name, Seder Olam Raba and Zuta, deal with the Portugese Expulsion (they were written long before).

    [YA – You are correct, of course. It should have read Seder HaDoros. It has been corrected. Thank you!]

  2. Interesting says:

    Can we have an exact citation please?

    [YA – I don’t own a Seder HaDoros. You can download the sefer at The passage is at the bottom of the left hand column on pg 147 of the pdf]

  3. LazerA says:

    I looked into this a bit. The Jewish Encylopedia describes the incident as follows:

    The expulsion of the Jews from Spain took place during the pontificate of Alexander VI., and was the indirect cause of a change in the old Jewish community in Rome. The Roman Jews appealed to the pope with a gift of 1,000 ducats, requesting him to refuse the fugitives admission into Roman territory. This so incensed the pope that he fined them 200 ducats.

    I also found a discussion of this incident in Salo Baron’s history (XII:149).

    As I suspected, the motive was not anti-Sephardic sentiment but economic, nor was the problem purely Ashkenazic (some North African communities – including some earlier Sephardic settlers – expressed the same concerns). Baron also points out that this reaction was the exception from the rule, and that the Sephardic refugees usually received a “brotherly reception”.

  4. Yosh says:

    That is easily the saddest thing I’ve read all week. Getting deserved well-deserved tochacha from a Renaissance Pope? Ouch.

    From Wikipedia :
    Alexander VI, allegedly a marrano according to papal rival Giuliano della Rovere,[16] distinguished himself by his relatively benign treatment of Jews. After the 1492 expulsion of Jews from Spain, some 9,000 famished Iberian Jews arrived at the borders of the Papal States. Alexander welcomed them into Rome, declaring that they were “permitted to lead their life, free from interference from Christians, to continue in their own rites, to gain wealth, and to enjoy many other privileges.” He similarly allowed the immigration of Jews expelled from Portugal in 1497 and from Provence in 1498.[17]

  5. motty says:

    I cheerfully concede that those sub-groups among us who tend to whitewash all of religious/orthodox/charedi culture may be doing a disservice. but I am not sure that this article is going to lift anyone up from where they may be to where they should be….

  6. L. Oberstein says:

    I heard about the Jewish Pope,Elchonon, whose father played chess with him. Were there other popes who were alleged to be Jewish and is there any truth to this?
    Not all earlier immigrant Jews welcomed the Russian Jews in the 1880’s to 1920’s.Competition was a minor factor, many were ashamed of their foreign roots and felt their own Americanism would be questioned if these Yiddish speaking ruffians were admitted. One of my heroes, Mr. Schiff, did everything he could to help them and to prevent restrictive immigration. In the 1930’s some Jews signed lots of affidavits to bring over German Jews and others didn’t sign even one. In hindsight, we all are smarter.

  7. Aaron says:

    For years, I’ve been met with rolled eyes when I’ve suggested one possible way to increase contact and empathy between Ashkenazi and Sefardi Jews here in Los Angeles: rabbinic exchange among shul rabbis during the afternoon of Tisha B’Av when most shuls have learning programs. Just for the length of one shiur. I’ve always been curious about what Sefardim say at their Kinot.

    In Los Angeles, where the proximity would make it easy, could we not lead by example?

    Or at least point ME to an English-language shiur concerning the Sefardi experience of Tisha B’Av. I’ll make it a point to attend.

  8. mb says:

    What do expect from Italians!
    Meanwhile as a proud Englishman from Yekke roots, I’m grateful to the pioneering Spanish and Portuguese under the leadership of R.Manashe Ben Israel who were able to resettle in Britain the 1650s and pave the way for their German brethren to follow some 20 or 30 years later.
    (Unfortunately, and somewhat surprising;ly, the Reform movement in Britain was initiated by the Sephardim and NOT by the German immigrants)

  9. Ori says:

    LazerA, let me quote Mark Twain(1) about antisemitism: “…Jewish persecution is not a religious passion, it is a business passion”. Protectionism makes a poor excuse, by gentiles or Jews.

    L. Oberstein, there was at least one other Jewish(2) pope – the first one, Peter.

    (1) “Concerning the Jews”, towards the end. forbid me from posting a link here, but you can google it.

    (2) “Jewish” in the Halachic sense of having had a Jewish mother, that is. I don’t know enough about Christian beliefs at the time to say if he might have been considered Jewish in his beliefs.

  10. Rudy Wagner says:

    1. Are we Jewish people racist because we consider ourselves the chosen people (I think we have quite a few more serious barriers than the Emanuel wall to separate us from the rest)? Are our admission procedures to judaism racists because there are very few chinese amongst us? If a Bes Din doesnt accept a black guy as a Yid should he sue the Bes Din for racism? Are the Sefardim of New York racist because they don’t accept gerim? Where the Shvatim racists? Are cohanim racist/discriminatory because they don’t marry widows? Are Cohanim and Leviim racist because they keep the Avoida (Temple Service) to themselves? Are we racist/discriminatory because we don’t marry mamzerim? Am I a racist because I want to keep my family traditions (BTW I am ashkenazi who married a sefardi)? In my opinion most of the people here, alongside the Supreme Court, are taking a non jewish concept (racism) and applying it inappropriately to the Jewish people…

    2. An interesting story. Once I was in a stiebel and I noticed a choshuve Rav whose tallis bag had his name and surname followed by Samech Teis. I asked him about it and the answer was along these lines:

    I was born in Morocco where my family moved when they left Spain over 500 years ago. The initials stand for Sefardi Tahor, i.e. Pure Sefardi. We are the pure white Sefardim of superior culture, lineage and heritage, who never mixed with the low black jewish Moroccans. (This went on for 500 years…)

    3. Regarding the Italians, I remind you all that the Jews deported to Rome after Churban Sheni (Destruction of the Second Temple, BTW Yinianei de-Yoma) were redeemed (i.e., purchased as slaves in order to avoid the less appealing prospect of being purchased as slaves by romans or other less civilized people) by the already existing and rich Roman community. It is very likely that most of the jewish people of European and Mediterranean origin (something like 90% of nowadays jews) should be thankful to this act of chessed of the Romans. Without it you will not be able to be here as jews today… In 1492 in refusing the Sefardim they may have already been negatively influenced by the Ashkenazis 😉

  11. Simcha Younger says:

    I have been told that samech tet, while often expanded (by those who use it) as ‘sepharadi tahor’ actually stands for ‘sin tin’, aramaic for ‘dust and ashes’, which an author would put after his name as a sign of humility. I recently saw it expanded as ‘sin tin’ in a Sephardi sefer, but I cannot recall where.

  12. Yitzhak says:

    ס”ט almost certainly does not mean ספרדי טהור:

    “Contrary to widespread belief ס”ט does not mean ספרדי טהור!! To be sure, you can find people today, even Sephardim, who will assert that this is what it means. But historically, it never meant this, and today, among the talmidei hakhamim who use it, this is not what it means.

    How, you might be thinking, do I know this? The easiest answer is that the Hakham Zvi and R. Yaakov Emden both use the abbreviation, and neither of them were Sephardi. What it does show, however, is that the Hakham Zvi, who studied in Sephardic yeshivot and served as hakham to the Sephardic community in Sarajevo, adopted an abbreviation common in the Sephardic world. …

    R. Mazuz sums up the matter as follows (Or Torah [Tamuz 5733], no. 110):

    ומכלל האמור תבין, שמה שכותבים כמה מאחינו האשכנזים (כגון בספר שם הגדולים וואלדען) על רבנים ספרדים ס”ט לאחר פטירתם, ויש אפילו הכותבים רב פלוני ס”ט זצ”ל, הכל טעות, ויסודו בפירוש המשובש הנ”ל ספרדי טהור, כאילו ישנה התנשאות הגזע לספרדים על אחיהם האשכנזים. ולפי הבאור הנכון “סיפי טב”, נמצא הכותב ס”ט זצ”ל ככותב שליט”א זצ”ל בנשימה אחת. ופשוט שגם “אשכנזי טהור” יכול לחתום ס”ט בלי שום פקפוק, כמו שחתמו הגאונים חכם צבי והיעב”ץ הנ”ל. ותשקוט הארש”

    From Dr. Marc B. Shapiro’s “What Do Adon Olam and ס”ט Mean?” (online).

  13. S. says:

    I think R. Adlerstein is off in describing this as “anti-Sephardic discrimination,” certainly insofar as the attitudes of Italian Jews in 1500 had absolutely zero impact on the attitudes of East European Ashkenazim. In addition, the Italians probably could not have perceived the Spanish exiles as lower class or primitive, while today’s so-called Sephardim probably are seen that way. I also doubt it was stam ethnic xenophobia (even if it was cruel). Jewish communities in Europe in those times existed via a very delicate, hard-earned equilibrium, and they knew that the introduction of an unstable element could spell their own demise; if this report is accurate than it is certainly ironic that their own reaction toward the refugees backfired.

    For that matter there’s a lot that can be written about (true; Spanish) Sephardic discrimination and superiority in their various diasporas, whether in Western Europe directed at the Ashkenazim or the Maghreb, directed at the indigenous Jews.

  14. S. says:

    There are many sources and proofs for the acronym ס”ט. One is a letter from Isaac Samuel Reggio (Yashar) to Ignaz Blumenfeld, published in Otsar Nechmad 1 (1856), letter 11, page 34.

    נהגו חכמי איטליאה לכתוב אחר שמותם תיבת ס”ט ופירושם סופו טוב להיות להם לסימן יפה שסיימו בטובה

    Of course it’s entirely possible that it was interpreted and intended by people who used it for hundreds of years in Morocco and elsewhere as ספרדי טהור. However I am unaware of any early evidence that this is so. On the contrary, every source that has been dug up explains it in the other fashions.

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